Don't buy Apple's iPhone 4, Consumer Reports warns

Magazine's conclusion is black eye for Apple, says analyst

Consumer Reports magazine today said it won't recommend Apple's Phone 4 because of major reception issues when users touch the external antenna.

One analyst called the publication's conclusion a "black eye" for Apple.

"When your finger or hand touches a spot on the phone's lower left side -- an easy thing, especially for lefties -- the signal can significantly degrade enough to cause you to lose your connection altogether if you're in an area with a weak signal," said Mike Gikas, the publication's senior electronics editor in a blog post Monday .

Consumer Reports non-recommendation -- "Due to this problem, we can't recommend the iPhone 4," Gikas said -- is the latest in a series of knocks against the iPhone 4 over reception problems.

Complaints from consumers about the iPhone 4 dropping calls surfaced within hours of the smartphone 's launch last month. Apple quickly acknowledged that holding the iPhone 4 can diminish the signal but offered only generic advice, telling users to "avoid gripping it in the lower left corner" or "use one of the many available cases."

A week later, Apple admitted that the iPhone 4's signal strength formula was flawed and promised to update the software.

Consumer Reports's Gikas dismissed that explanation as a red herring. "Our findings call into question the recent claim by Apple that the iPhone 4's signal-strength issues were largely an optical illusion caused by faulty software," he said.

The magazine tested three iPhone 4s in its radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber, where a cell tower emulator was used to simulate real-world signals. Gikas said that the publication's engineers also tested several other AT&T phones in the chamber, including the iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. "None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4," he said.

Gikas said that the tests hinted that "AT&T's network might not be the primary suspect" in the iPhone 4 woes, quashing talk by some that the U.S. carrier is largely at fault.

"Consumer Reports carries some weight," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "But I'm not sure how many people are actually reading it. Certainly, not many 20-somethings are."

Still, the magazine's testing and conclusion is bad for Apple on several levels. "This is a black eye for Apple," Gold said. "Now people can say, 'See, we told you it has reception problems.'"

Gold speculated that the antenna issue either escaped Apple's notice, or that the company knew of it and still released the iPhone 4. "This is basic cell phone 101," he said, referring to testing Apple should have done prior to launching the smartphone. "RF [radio frequency] is a sort of like black magic, so in order to make sure [handsets] work, cell phone makers have beta devices in the real world running around." But Apple, with its fondness for security, may have skimped on that part of its pre-release testing.

Consumer Reports also concluded that covering the antenna gap -- the small scores in the steel band near the bottom of each side of the iPhone 4 -- with duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material helps reduce the reception problem. "It may not be pretty, but it works," said Gikas.

That advice contradicts an antenna engineer's take two weeks ago that suggestions to tape over the gaps were just "hokum."

Consumer Reports continued to recommend 2009's iPhone 3GS. Last year's model is priced at $99 in an 8GB configuration, and is available at Apple's and AT&T's online stores.

"To me, [the reception issues] are fundamental problems that show Apple didn't properly test the iPhone 4," said Gold. "And I'm not so sure that the software update will fix it."

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Topics: Apple, Mobile and Wireless, consumer electronics, telecommunication, Macintosh, Phones, smartphones, mobile
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Compare & Save

Deals powered by WhistleOut
WhistleOut

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?